Friday, December 30, 2011

Christmas limbo

My husband and I are both sort of on "vacation," yay! The last week of December, people are still working. But then they have a break until Jan.9th or so. I wouldn't want to need a doctor or anything during this time (lots of people out of town), but it's still nice to have time off.

Andrei and I sat looking at the clock yesterday evening and realized that it was only about 7:30 pm and we were both already home and had eaten and didn't have any work to do. He had stayed up until 2 or 3 a.m. for the past I-don't-know-how-many nights.

We played a board game, had dessert, looked at the clock...it was still before TEN O'CLOCK. So amazing.

It's nice that Christmas and New Year's are on weekends this year. When Christmas is in the middle of the work-week, it just doesn't feel right! This year, we had a Christmas concert on the 23rd....

At rehearsal earlier in the week.
For once, the songs were thematically-appropriate! Our concerts intended for Christmas and Easter often end up getting postponed and the songs lose their relevance, but we were "on time" this year. continue/-

On Christmas Eve, we gathered with some other families to have a meal. It was typical of parties here: taking turns around the table in the small apartment, more and more food appearing out of nowhere when you were expecting a simple meal...catching up with friends.

Then Andrei was up most of the night preparing the sermon for Christmas morning, which I hear was (not surprisingly) excellent. Unfortunately, I was sick.

The Sunday school put on a Christmas play. I just love, from the pictures at least, how everything turned out. Sometimes it is good (and healthy!) to know you're not needed. I helped out at rehearsals a little bit, but putting on plays (in a directorial role, at least), is not my thing. And then I couldn't actually attend the performance. It was great to hear that everyone worked together and it all came together well in the end.


My dear friends!

And I just LOVE the little star, our youngest congregant!



So now we still have New Year's, which I have always sort of regarded as a non-holiday...and then Russian Christmas, also rather ambiguous in the light of having already celebrated.

But, nonetheless, Merry Christmas!

Admiring the newborn King...

Friday, December 16, 2011

Thanksgiving

Oh dear, another month went by! Well, I can at least write about how my document saga ended up.

On the day after (American) Thanksgiving, my mother-in-law and I headed back to Immigration. As usual we had run around making photocopies and paying fees at the last minute.

It wasn't my last chance; I still had a Friday or two left before my deadline. But I didn't want it to come down to the last minute.

Nina (my mother-in-law) went in early to get in line so I could rest a little at home and finish getting ready. There were even more people than before, so we were pretty far down on the list. She convinced me to stay home for a few more hours.

Eventually I headed over and we waited the last hour or two together. One of the guys from the previous time was there and raising a ruckus again. He had almost gotten into a fistfight before. We all held our breaths as he barged into the office and argued about something with the Inspector. Then a few people took issue with the schedule posted in the hallway, and the Inspector actually came out, stunning everyone into silence, and read the schedule out loud at the top of her lungs.
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So, fast-forward to us finally getting into The Room. I believe it was "lunchtime" at that point, but she took us anyway. My mother-in-law tried to make the situation more personal and tried to "get acquainted" with the Inspector. But the Inspector would not give us her name...I guess she thought we wanted to write a complaint! It is so hard to be compassionate when people are pitted against each other like that. A name, a little personal information...it makes it easier to think of another person as human, but in the bureaucratic system that is taken away.

I had some mistakes on my application and I knew that I wouldn't get in again today if I had to leave and do it over. But she let me just write in the corrections. I also had to add a paragraph to the "explanation," and she let me just come back in and drop it off, without waiting in line.

Then there was ripping, and stamping, and...approval!!! Free until next fall.

There are still a lot of unanswered questions about the future, and I don't fully understand what happened THIS time. The Inspector said that my report wouldn't cut it, if I were to apply for a permanent residency permit. How, then, will I fill in the missing pieces?

But for now, I got to celebrate Thanksgiving after all, and began the Advent season with a glad heart.


Saturday, November 19, 2011

What's been on my mind

Recently, I was musing about doing good deeds...just reminiscing about surprises we had arranged for various friends, and how good it felt to witness their joy.

But the Scripture popped into my head:  "If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?" (Matthew 5:46, 47)


Okay, Lord. If I'm supposed to love my enemies, who are they? Defiant English students? Angry bus-drivers? I was puzzled by this.

I was walking home and saw some migrant workers clearing leaves. They had claimed an old baby buggy to help them carry things around. It was physical labor that probably didn't pay much. And I thought, "I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked." (Psalm 84:10)

So what were these observations going to teach me about love and humility? What was coming next?
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Oh. It's Immigration time.

I went to the office later that week and waited in line for hours, as always. I didn't like that assignment they gave me, no way. Why do they never give enough information the first time? No instructions, no addresses or phone numbers.

I felt so very defeated walking away, and I told myself, "We're going to treat this like a school project. You're a student again.You have a month to do all the research and make the proper conclusions. And then, you will be tested."

I've taken a few steps so far, but the last visit revealed further complications. I know I have to kick into high gear, but it is so very hard to find the energy.

I do not want to go back to that Immigration Office. Maybe next time will be the last? It will be an early Christmas present to myself...no more dealing with Russian bureaucracy for a year...or so.


Sunday, October 16, 2011

Blood

I was reading about the construction of Solomon's temple and all the decorations, when I was reminded that the temple was not only a place of beauty, but that just outside, animals were slaughtered for the sacrifice.


Moses took half of the blood and put it in bowls, and the other half he splashed against the altar.  Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it to the people. They responded, “We will do everything the LORD has said; we will obey." Moses then took the blood, sprinkled it on the people and said, “This is the blood of the covenant that the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words.” -Exodus 24:6-8

Maybe we put on fresh clothes to go to church; watch our language; try to put on a happy face. This is all very good, but sometimes we forget that redemption is a messy affair.

It took bloodshed to get us here. I don't know why this image is so vivid for me today in particular, but I want my life to show that I'm thankful.


Friday, October 14, 2011

It's that time of year

Seven years in Russia! That's what mid-October means to me.

It makes me feel old, of course. 10 years ago I was in college! The pre-Russia memories are fading.

Most importantly, there are the prayers God answered that seemed unanswerable back then. Would I ever feel at home? Would I ever be able to discuss my favorite topics in Russian? Would I ever have friends? God answered my questions and provided for needs I wasn't even aware of.


If I'd known about the challenges I would face, would I have chosen differently? What if I had known about the blessings I would receive? Interesting to think about, but futile, of course. God fills in the gaps in His own timing.


And I'm looking forward to seeing what new pieces are going to be filled in, by the time October rolls around again.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Wonderful or tragic?

 Intentional immersion...

A few friends called my attention to the NY Times piece about American children "thrown" into a Moscow elementary school. I found the video fascinating and poignant and even showed it to my English students. They liked it too, although they emphasized that it was NOT a typical Russian school!

Although I'm interested in bilingualism, the piece was about more than simply working hard to learn a language.

I found myself weeping a little bit over the contents, and I was musing about why. Obviously the whole experience of living in a place temporarily and making friends and then leaving would be emotional for anyone. But more than that, I think that the piece did a good job of portraying the language barrier in action. The frustration of not understanding the directions; the confused looks when you're making a mess of explaining yourself; the humility of being the only one who doesn't know what's going on, even if everyone around is kind to you.

 Just as compelling as the story itself is the comments section on the NY Times site. I found they ranged from "How beautiful" to "how cruel" to "No less interesting than what thousands of immigrants go through every day."

What a range of emotions! A few samples: click to continue/-

"We are Russians and have to send our kids to local school in US with American kids with no word in Russian. Do you think somebody is considering their feelings here?"

"Immersion was the way I learned, it hurt, it was embarrassing, but in 6 months I was fluent."

So here are a couple of questions for discussion:

1) Is this kind of immersion a good model for language-learning?

If you watch the end of the film, you see children who have become fluent in a second language (in 4 years) and are valued members of the new community, participating in extracurricular activities and having no shortage of social appointments...CONTRIBUTING!

 From this point of view you could say it was successful. But the article mentioned some behind-the-scenes struggles: for example, the bullying, which was caught on videotape and then discouraged. Without the emotional support and the intervention of caring adults, the social environment of a classroom in a new culture can be very difficult to navigate.

2) Is this model better than the current approach in U.S. school systems?

As far as I understand, immigrants to the U.S. normally attend special ESL classes or even bilingual classes, which, intentionally or non-intentionally, keeps them apart from their peers. This is meant to help their transition, but I wonder if it really does them a disservice. Consider the following comment to the article:


"While I don't think the parallel to immigrant children in America is exact, I do think the story supports my longstanding critique of bilingual education for foreign-born children. I tutored many immigrant children from Latin American countries, most of whom were taking all their classes (even here in Minneapolis) in Spanish. Not only did they fall behind in level of instruction for math and science, they didn't learn any English, and the classes kept them separate from American kids who might have become their friends. The kids who came from less-popular countries, like Russia or Afghanistan, had no bilingual classes -- they were dumped in with the English-speaking kids. And guess what? They did okay. It was a struggle, but like the writer's children, those kids caught up and excelled. They also made friends who could and did help them with English. They joined sports teams. They were totally "normal" kids. I genuinely believe the Spanish-speaking kids were done a terrible disservice by being segregated into classes taught in Spanish. Bilingual education, in my opinion, assures that immigrant children will not assimilate into society" 

I wonder what would happen if we challenged language learners academically by letting them learn with their peers, while putting energy instead into helping ease the social/emotional aspects of the transition?


















Thursday, September 22, 2011

Quick update

I miss writing! There are times when I'm catching up on blogging and email, thinking, this is excess socializing. If I write that person or comment on that blog, I'm going to get responses, and then I'll have to reply, and it will just keep going and going and take up precious time. Is it just egotism that makes me want to write about myself so others will read it?

But. Here I am.

Andrei and I are both teaching. He has several subjects that he teaches at the university, as well as one at the seminary. I teach Conversational/Business English at the local branch of an American company. We teach during the day, then come home and have to prepare for the next day.  I actually teach 3 days, then have one day for the orphanage. We've still got our Bible study and all that. We're working on gradually having all of our friends over to see our little nest. I suppose that is the thing to do after you're married.

I want to do some posts on teaching ESL and Sunday school, since I'm in that mode again.

I also want to write about how our wedding went..at least for my sake, before the memories fade!


Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Speaking of youth...


And while I'm on the topic of teenagers...this little girl was about 8 years old when I met her. Now she is 13 (going on 20). I don't visit her orphanage anymore, but I recently heard of a local church doing outreach there, which makes me VERY happy. Oh Lord, bring salvation to these teens!







The youth at my Russian church

When I moved to St. Petersburg I was focused on children’s ministry since I had just been ministering in the summer camps. But my church that I settled into had just a few kids on Sunday mornings, and no teenagers. I didn’t really have anywhere to bring the teenagers I’d met. We did a few McDonald’s outings and such. One girl and I went to the zoo. But really, what teenager wants to hang out with a random 20-something American lady? And furthermore, what Russian parent wants his or her children hanging out with a stranger from the U.S.? At least, that was what I worried about. The good news is that now a lot of those teenagers are grown-up now and it’s not as awkward to go out for coffee. But I remember one boy who took his own life. You only have so much time…

Doing ministry in a big city is different in that local churches don’t necessarily gain a reputation in the neighborhood. “Oh, I know that church, we went to a Christmas program there.” Nothing like that. Parents can’t ask around to see if other parents have sent their kids to such-and-such VBS. The Protestant churches aren’t really known around town, and the Orthodox churches are known more for their location/building than for fellowship opportunities. So it really takes a friend leading a friend for new people to be able to discover church life.

That brings us to the present. A few people in our church are involved in summer camp ministry, which is great. Our pastor talked about presenting the Gospel and all those little hands shooting up in the air because they wanted to receive Jesus. That brings back so many memories for me. Of course it always looks slightly questionable to an outsider, but I know what it’s like to be there and watching a person’s demeanor changing as the Holy Spirit works. Children are fully capable of understanding the need in their own hearts!
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After coming back from these adventures, one young man in our church is totally broken over the future of our teenagers. Kids are in Sunday school now; then they sort of “age out” as Sunday school gets boring. After that we have Small Groups, which they could technically come to, but it would be a little hard for them to travel to a different neighborhood and stay out that late on a school night.

Do teens need a separate ministry? I remember being motivated to serve as I attended youth group and had fellowship with other teens who were facing similar life issues, growing up Christian while attending a secular school. But I’m not sure if it was the fact that they were peers or just the fellowship itself that helped me feel like a part of the Church. I know that I would have been terrified to speak up at a Small Group if there had been people of all ages…but then again, I always enjoyed the Russia team, which was mixed ages.

People argue that Youth Group needs to be “fun” to attract youth. I’m not sure how I feel about that. It’s fun to play games and unwind, but I’m not sure if they affect a person’s reaction to the Gospel. If he’s interested, he’ll keep coming regardless. If he’s not interested, he may keep coming just for the social aspects. But I agree that a person needs to be able to feel relaxed and safe in order to share about deeper topics.

There is also the idea of a shared commitment…doing something together. From a parent’s point of view: my child is going somewhere to play games with some religious fanatics. It doesn’t seem to have hurt him. But wouldn't it reach a parent's heart to see a child getting involved in volunteer work, getting priorities straight, maybe learning some practical skills? And the youth is getting more than a feel-good experience; he's contributing to something bigger than himself.

So back to our church. Pasha pleads in a choked-up tone: We have to reach our teens before they’re gone. In a few more years another group of them will be teenagers, and then the others, and they will all gradually slip through the cracks and leave the Church.

What is more important? For the youth to have a program just for them, or for the youth to be included in the life of the church? Should they just patiently listen to the sermon and tag along to events with their parents, or should special attention be given? I feel the urgency too and once again I don't have a solution, but I can see hearts being set on fire to reach the youth. The desire is being channeled into prayer, and surely the Lord will provide a way.

I've seen some discussion around the Internet about integrated churches, where there is no division of ministries by age. Again I cannot say what is best, but I love when ages are mixed, as long as no one is left out. While we don't have a youth program, why not work with what we have? I’d really like to get some of the girls helping out with Sunday school. Other Sunday school teachers could be mentors and the teens would get a chance to serve. Of course they are helpful as it is, but having an official responsibility would be a chance for personal growth.

 I realize that this was more of a personal meditation and not so much a response to a Bible passage or other body of text. Maybe I'll come across some confirmation later as I read. Any thoughts?

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Familiar ground


Andrei and I felt unexpectedly blessed to be back at church on Sunday. We hadn’t necessarily been homesick, but we really felt at peace to be back. I think part of it was that it was good to return to the context where we first got to know each other. Many things in marriage are new to us, but if we go back to serving each other as we did in the past, it will be a constant. We were fellow members of the Body before we belonged to each other exclusively.

We serve together, but in different roles. We notice needs, but from different perspectives. And then come together to share.

Of course another, more human part of it is that it’s good to feel useful. But while it's nice to hear that we were missed, we know that everything was perfectly fine, if not better, in our absence. :)

 A new school year is starting, and this, too, feels familiar. NOW the creative juices are flowing and the fingers are tapping away at the keyboard making lesson plans. We are getting back into the rhythm.

 But churches change, and jobs can change. So it's important to remember even in the midst of contentment that many circumstances are variable. We won't always have this routine. But Christ is the same, and the gifts He gives us can be used in a multitude of ways.


Monday, August 29, 2011

Being alone

I remember a time when my only lover was God. He was the only one who knew my innermost secrets. 

It is quite possible to be single and not a bit lonely, when you have a Faithful Friend. Of course you can wonder about the possibility of having a companion, but it is not necessary to be sad, because single life can be quite full. But I am already losing the perspective I had then, so I'm glad to have journal entries to remind me.

I was lying awake due to jet-lag a few nights ago, while a special person lay snoring sleeping next to me. I wondered...had anything really changed in the past month? Here I was, lying awake again in the darkness...hadn't I forgotten about Someone who used to keep me company?

When Andrei and I were on vacation, we got up fairly late, and it felt awkward to separate for individual prayer time. We did everything together. Sometimes we would both sit at our computers, though not for long. Maybe in the evening I would read a chapter or two while Andrei journalled. But in general, it was hard to get motivated to go off by ourselves and pray separately. I remember going through a similar thing with my college roommate-we had just met, and were sort of getting along, but how do you interject into a conversation (or even a lull), "I don't want to talk right now"? Finally I just pulled out my Bible at my desk and she did the same, and it worked out.

Now that it's fall Andrei and I will both be very busy again, and it will still be hard to discipline ourselves to spend time with the Lord. But on the other hand, we'll be out of the house at different times, so there will be opportunities for reflection. I am glad at least that jet-lag served as a reminder to seek companionship with my Heavenly Father.


Friday, August 26, 2011

Here we are

It was interesting to reminisce as we arrived at Pulkovo airport yesterday after a honeymoon trip.

Last summer, Andrei met me at the airport as I returned from a trip to the States. He often did this to help me out, even though it meant carrying one of my 50-pound suitcases in each hand as we took a bus, then the metro, then made our way up to the 4th floor or wherever I was living at the time.

But the thing is that we weren't dating at that time. So last July I was standing there at baggage claim, very glad that Andrei was waiting outside, but wishing that he had a deeper motive for meeting me at the airport. A hug would be nice, or flowers...or a surprise declaration of love? Then again, that would have been rather odd as we hadn't discussed anything beyond friendship, at least in any more than hypothetical terms.

He met me as promised in the waiting area, and accompanied me and my bags all the way to the new apartment where I was going to be living. The one where he would help me move furniture and come pick me up for our first date a month later (but neither of us predicted that, of course.)

And now we are back in the neighborhood where we first met, when I was living here 7 years ago, in the building next door to him, and wondering if he was ever going to come courting. We're back from our honeymoon and settling into our first shared apartment.

That's just an example of what can happen in one year...or seven, if you like.
 

Friday, August 5, 2011

A new union

We had such a wonderful wedding! Maybe everyone says that about their own, but almost a week later we are still feeling so touched and grateful to everyone who helped to make our day meaningful. More later...


Saturday, July 16, 2011

How we got married the first time

It feels awkward writing about being legally married and making wedding plans at the same time.


So here's the truth: Andrei and I had our civil wedding ceremony on April 17th of this year. I hadn't wanted to make a big deal out of it because Russians DO make a big deal out of it, and we want the spotlight to be on our church wedding.

Whenever we mention to someone here that we already had our "registration," we get a big CONGRATS and "I didn't know! Already? When?"

Sometimes we wear our wedding rings, like when getting my new passport, or going for Andrei's U.S. visa. Legally we were allowed to do all this, as husband and wife. But in general we won't consider ourselves truly married until we've had the church ceremony.

So that's that. Just wanted to clear up any confusion. And now, for the civil wedding report: continue/-

After taking care of some necessary paperwork and applying for a marriage license, we had signed up to be legally married on a Sunday evening in April.

The wedding "palaces" were created during Soviet times when church weddings were outlawed, yet idyllic family life was advertised. In general they are very ornate and everything is done very ceremoniously. They were also designed to accommodate dozens of weddings a day, so everything is set up to trot all the guests and bridal parties through the program in a very efficient way, timed to the minute.

We arrived 30 minutes early (as instructed) and were ushered into the cloakroom. Then our guests were ordered to stay in a waiting room near the entrance, while we went upstairs to finish taking care of the paperwork.

This was my big moment: to make the decision about my last name. I told them I wanted to change it. "Cross out your maiden name," they said, "and write in your husband's." How symbolic!

Then they went to consult with some other employees and came back with a whole entourage, who wanted to warn me against taking Andrei's last name. I would have horrible problems, they said. The U.S. authorities simply wouldn't understand about noun declensions and my last name having the feminine ending. But I had done my research and made my decision. They made me sign a statement saying I had been "warned."

(the resulting problems were due to changing my MIDDLE name and not my last name...something I hadn't researched)

The marriage certificate was printed out right then and there, and we were shown into an ornate waiting room. Meanwhile, as soon as we were settled, our guests were led upstairs and into the opposite waiting room, as though they couldn't see us. But they came in to visit anyway. I was given a balloon.



More waiting...they collected the rings.


As the big doors opened and the Mendelsson track came on, we processed into the room where our guests had been seated, and stopped on a swirly-thing in the middle of the carpet, per instruction. The officiant begin to give an elaborate speech, clearly trying to sound as dramatic as possible. I wanted to laugh, but needed to focus on paying attention to what she was saying. I didn't want to miss any instructions.


We affirmed our intent, signed our names, exchanged rings, shook hands...how long was it, 5 minutes?

Then everyone congratulated us and we rejoiced over our little victory. Husband and wife, under Russian law.


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R4MUs1E3h6Y

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Another orphanage update

I must have gotten sidetracked, as I never did finish my orphanage series that I started a few months ago.

I only visited one orphanage regularly this past school year as I felt that the doors were finally closed at the other one...the one that had always presented a challenge.

Then a woman contacted me from a local church. It turns out that she had found me through a mutual friend online and seen photos of familiar kids while perusing my photo albums. First she seemed suspicious as to how I knew the kids, and then we figured out that we were both Christians and reaching out to the kids with a common goal.

They had been visiting the kids in the orphanage too, doing crafts, organizing parties, and even inviting some of the kids to their homes.

The current administration doesn't let the church group visit anymore, so they're now in the same position as I am: wondering if there is a way to continue this ministry, and if so, how?

But it turns out that God has been answering my prayers all these years by providing local Christians to minister to these dear children.

And it isn't too late to start praying for the next school year: maybe new connections will be made, or something will change in the administration. Anything's possible.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

"When David slew Goliath (yes!)...

....that was a miracle, too."

Today I was on the way to get the decision from Immigration about my new passport. I was really trying to walk in faith, and I remembered the "Miracle of Miracles" song (from Fiddler on the Roof), which I have never found very appealing musically. But suddenly, the lyrics seemed appropriate. I needed my miracle.

The waiting area was as tense and sober as usual. I thought to myself, even if I were completely confident about the state of my own documents, I would still be nearly brought to my knees out of compassion for all of the others. So much confusion and despair and frustration. Where to go, what to write on the form, how to get some answers when the line is so long and the working hours so few. I feel raw inside each time I go there.

As a Christian, shouldn't I be immune from fear? But I can't live without emotions. We are IN the world, even if we are not of this world. And the words came to me: salt...yeast...just a little bit and the whole batch will be different. Just one person in a crowded waiting room can make a difference.

My last name was called and I saw down at the desk across from an inspector I hadn't seen before. "You're here because of a last name change?" "That's right, as well as middle name."
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She didn't even flinch.

"Okay, I'll need a copy of your marriage certificate." I handed over all the documents one-by-one as she asked for them. I had had them ready since May 20th, when I first tried to do the transfer.

"And we'll need your Explanation." I didn't have that. The Boss had taken it.

I explained that it should be in their files, and she promised to look. Then I got a piece of paper to sign and was supposed to come back in 2 1/2 hours.

That was it. No questions, nothing to fill out. No arguing or explanation of what they had all decided when renewing my documents. No condescension towards my "unorthodox" ways.

At 5 pm, we were back with my signed release form. When we were called by name, she handed me my new passport to inspect. It already had the new stamps in it. After a month and a half of running from place to place, it was all settled in just a few hours! Hallelujah!

I do have to apply for a new exit visa, as expected. I'm assuming it will take 4 weeks again. I will probably get it a week or two after the wedding and then we'll be able to travel somewhere.

Oh, and I'm getting married one month from today. Heh heh.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Heartache

"We have sad news in the orphanage." I felt like my heart stopped when Galina told me that today during our weekly tutoring session.

I immediately started thinking of the "older" ladies who worked at the orphanage. I hoped nothing had happened to one of them.

"It's Liosha," said Galina. "His parents are not coming to get him. The adoption is not going to happen. Liosha cried when he found out, and he went to camp yesterday."

My heart was breaking for Liosha at this news. Out of all the wounded kids, his pain and loneliness gets to me the most. Galina said that when he came to the orphanage he used to just sit under a desk, afraid to come out.

He was afraid of me too, for a while. But nowadays I can get a playful smile.

Getting adopted seemed like the best thing that could happen to Liosha. He is so fragile emotionally, though he is a kind, smart boy. I just can't picture his future after graduating from the orphanage. A new life in California, on a farm, in a family...that sounded like the perfect answer to prayer. I want to believe that he still has a chance to find a family, but I am despairing.

You see, Liosha is 16. I'm pretty sure this is the cut-off age for adoption.

And I also wonder if he will be able to trust again, after this disappointment. My heart hurts for him right now.


Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Yes and maybe

Today was a somewhat crucial day as far as some of the goals we've been working towards for the summer.


1) At 8:30 in the morning, Andrei had his visa interview at the U.S. Consulate. We had heard rumors that spouses aren't guaranteed non-immigrant/tourist visas since they might be just using their new marital status as an excuse to emigrate. The general approach is that the Consulate assumes the applicant will be tempted to stay in the U.S., and therefore he should prove that he has ties to his home country.

Andrei and I got a few letters of recommendation and could have taken some steps to prove our relationship is legitimate, etc. However, Andrei felt that he just needed to tell the truth and not embellish, nor hide anything. So he headed into the Consulate at 8:30 this morning and emerged within an hour with an orange card...that means YES.

2) After picking up the translations of my latest documents (including the letterhead and stamp of a few documents that were otherwise in Russian...just in case...), we headed over to Immigration to try to get my documents approved. It's now been about 6 weeks since we've been circling among various offices.
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We went right to the boss again even though we technically were supposed to visit the regular inspector. The boss still couldn't commit even though we had done things the way he had asked. Thought it over....checked upstairs...nope, still not sure. He told me to wait for a phone call, but I had my doubts, so we convinced him to submit my documents to the committee which meets tomorrow, and then they'll call me by name on Thursday. This is it! I feel that I have exhausted all options, and if I still get rejected, I will have to look into changing my name back.

3) Andrei leaves on the train at 10pm for his annual summer expedition with students from the university where he teaches.

We're thankful that a few burdens have been lifted in time for Andrei's departure. When he comes back, he'll be on "vacation"...except for wedding planning, that is. ;)

To sum up: Andrei is now allowed to enter the U.S., but I do not currently have an exit visa. So we're still not sure whether or not we'll be able to travel anywhere outside of Russia anytime soon.

It will be fun to look back on the time when Andrei was allowed to travel to the U.S. and I wasn't. :)


Friday, June 24, 2011

When candids go wrong

Ummmm....not quite what Andrei and I had in mind when we were looking for a home appropriate for having guests over...:)

Too stuffed to move (at my birthday party last weekend).

Don't I look like the most welcoming hostess? Tea, anyone?


more photos/-
Andrei, are you sure you want to get married?
But in the end, everyone was full and happy...



Thursday, June 23, 2011

Old life meets new

My college professor is in town! We met for coffee today and I got to show off my fiance, who always has lots of interesting cultural facts to share. :)



 Andrei and I were asked to speak to the group of students from my university that are here for a summer exchange program. Stay tuned for part 2 in July...





Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Rejected again

I had the idea of going to the Consulate again. After all, they got me my (currently disputed) passport, and they can intercede for citizens, even when it's outside the realm of their usual services.

At the same time I wrote an e-mail to the Embassy in Moscow, thinking that since there are more U.S. citizens there, they might have seen this problem before.

The lady from the Consulate in St. P. called me right away and suggested a few options. It was nice of her to be so responsive. She described another letter that she can get for me, but I explained that it will not be accepted without legalization. It turns out that the problem with getting it legalized is that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs can't confirm the signature of the Consul in St. Petersburg!

She said she would make some phone calls and get back to me. Today, the word was that she had called both the Wedding Palace and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and once again, both offices refuse to do what Immigration has dreamed up ordered.

So basically, there is a 0% chance of meeting Immigration's demands. Unless...I could get a letter from the Embassy in Moscow, which could be legalized. I'm waiting for a call back about that.
read more/-

Meanwhile, the lady at the Consulate suggested just getting a new passport with the name that Russians view as logical.

The wheels in my head are turning as I ponder if this will work. The thing is, that Passport #1 (with all original names) has a stamp in it saying that it's been replaced by Passport #2 (with the name that the Russians think is bogus because I changed my middle name to my old last name).

Hypothetically speaking, if I get a Passport #3 (with the name that the Russians want), then it will technically replace Passport #2. Therefore, I won't be able to prove the connection between Passport #1 and Passport #3, without introducing bogus Passport #2.

Still with me?

I'm furious disappointed that all this time has been "wasted." I'm upset not only for my sake but for those who will face a similar problem. I had hoped that we would find a solution to this loophole in the Russian system, and that those who come after me would be able to benefit from it. That's part of why I wanted to keep fighting. But I keep coming to a dead-end.

The implications are that I can't leave Russia for awhile until I can get this cleared up. It will probably take at least a few more months. In the end it will be fine, but I'm disappointed that we won't get our honeymoon outside of Russia as we had planned. I'm sure we will still have a good time wherever we do end up going, and it will make good memories regardless.

We're doing everything we can, and believe that the final result is in God's hands.


Thursday, June 9, 2011

Bureaucracy at its "best"

The officials have done a really good job this time, sending us from office to office without anyone wanting to take responsibility and give an answer. Apparently our case is strange and perplexing. Who would have thought?

3 weeks ago (seems like longer), I spent the day at Immigration, having spent a month collecting all the documents they'd requested. Since then, we have tried several different options, none of which have been fruitful (yet).

Week One
Friday: Immigration: they are confused. I am distraught.
The following Tuesday: Immigration: they still are confused. I am calmer, but longing to be understood.
Thursday: The committee at Immigration gives us two options: We can go to Moscow (they already told us no) or go to the wedding archives. The people at the wedding archives are confused and send us to get a document. The document guy won't be in his office until Monday.

Week Two
Monday: Meet with professor guy who can get us the document.
Tuesday: The document isn't ready until evening, so we won't make it to the wedding archives. We will have to go on Thursday.
Thursday: The wedding archive lady only works 2 days a week, and isn't in her office. We talk to her assistant, who promises that we'll get a phone call.

Two weeks, one document...a little bit of progress.more/-

Week Three:
Tuesday: Still no word from the wedding archives, so we pay a visit in person. She hasn't even looked at our documents. She promises to call again.
Thursday: Still no phone call. We call and are told to come and collect our documents and try another division, as they can't do anything for us. The other office can't take us until next Thursday.

So basically Immigration thought and thought, and couldn't help us, and then the Wedding Archives thought and thought...and couldn't help us.

We were realizing today that this could take MONTHS. We might have to get the documents reviewed by several different committees without ever hearing anything definitive! Somebody somewhere needs to just tell us what to do and stick to it.

I don't have legal registration in my new passport, but I can't very well leave the country at this point either, not even a little skip across the border into Finland. So much for honeymoon plans!

A glimmer of hope: Maybe the professor's document will be enough to appease Immigration. It's worth a try. I'm going to go there first thing in the morning to get in line and try for a little negotiating.

I have been hearing about David and Goliath everywhere I go lately. It is my inspiration for now.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Letting go

I got a new phone the other day because my other one was dying, and it took a certain amount of effort to transfer the contacts between the two. But I actually received an unexpected blessing going through those contacts, in the form of memories.

My tendency to accumulate things extends even as far as my address book, and I looked at the list and decided it was time to prune...why was THAT person still in there? Surely I could do a little pruning in this area of life, at least.

But it wasn't so easy. My first year here was FULL of encounters with various interesting people. I was very prayerful about how I spent my time, and about each relationship. Perhaps it happens for many missionaries or any Christian servants, that they expect miracles at first and look at each day with such hope and anticipation...

No, I know it was hard. I didn't know Russian as well then, and everything was new and strange. But I sought the Lord, and He was with me.

And I look at the names of people whom I don't see much anymore, and I think...when did I stop praying for that person? Or seeking the counsel of that other one? The dear interpreters from camp; the former English students; an orphan or two who put me on their cell phones just for fun. What if I wanted to suddenly renew those relationships, and couldn't call because I erased their numbers? What if they wanted to call me, and I wasn't prepared to talk to them, not recognizing the number?

Maybe it's just another time now and there are different individuals I'm meant to serve, with a different focus. But I felt God's voice whispering to me not to give up. So I erased hardly anyone at all, and decided to leave the doors open to possibility.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Another week gone by

I'm a lot calmer than this time last week. For one thing, the dreaded packing and moving is over! I'm already in the apartment where we'll live together after the wedding. I haven't had much strength to put anything away, but the hard part is over.

Andrei and I went back to Immigration twice this week. The first time was to argue our case. We got in line at 8:00 in the morning and it wasn't our turn until 6pm. They were taking about 1 person an hour. I was calmer though with A. there and everyone praying for me. I had clarified a few things, but the Inspector still wouldn't accept my new passport. She said I needed some kind of proof that I had changed my name and all the documents matched. We were arguing in circles.

-"On what basis did you change your name?"

"On the basis of the marriage certificate."

-"But the name on the marriage certificate is different."

"But the marriage certificate is what I used to change my name."

-"But the names don't match up."

"But this letter right here from the Consulate says that they do."

-"This letter is not legalized."

"But no one will agree to legalize it."

-"You still need some sort of proof."

"But I have this letter. And the marriage certificate." read more/-

She agreed that it wouldn't be much use for us to go off to Moscow if the legalization department there hasn't agreed to help us. She promised to check in with her boss and gave us an appointment (!) for Thursday. She would call us by NAME. What luxury!

Part 2

On Thursday we were the first ones called, and it was a different Inspector. They had all discussed my documents and agreed that I needed "some sort" of document to accompany my new passport. Still no hint as to what that may be.

We pressed for more information and she said we could 1) get a copy of U.S. legislature regarding name changes and get that legalized in Moscow (again, we would probably be refused) or 2) go back to the wedding palace and get them to do something with the marriage certificate

When we asked about deadlines, she shrugged and said we would go by the date of whatever verification I get. So I guess I'm not going to get in trouble for running around with an expired passport.

We headed to the wedding palace, and happened to arrive during one of 2 narrow windows when the boss is in her office! We asked about verifying the name change and she didn't know what we were talking about, but she was more professional about it. No scrunching up her face in disgust and asking "What's THIS?" She sent us to an expert in linguistics who will be able to make a better judgment.

So the current plan is: 1) visit a linguistics expert to compare the two passports and confirm that it's the same person
2) go back to the wedding palace to get some sort of amendment to the marriage certificate
3) go back to Immigration with this new verification, and finally transfer my residency permit into my new passport
4) get my new registration and apply for an exit visa so I can travel after the wedding

A lot of times during all this I really wish I had an advocate. Where is the person to defend me? And it's not just me...I wish someone would step in and intervene for all the foreigners stuck in these bureaucratic messes. Where, Lord? The Holy Spirit has been sent to you. That is the hope I have to lean on.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Irreversible

Now that I'm a bit calmer, I can write about what's happening. I think it's important to write about trials, so that I can praise God later for them. Maybe by the time some of you read this, it will even be resolved. :)

I went ahead and got a new passport, with my new last name...after doing plenty of research to make sure my residency status would be transferable.

The line to visit the local authorities was very long, to put it mildly. Oh, the atmosphere of that waiting room...so terrifying. How many people's lives has it changed? The pacing, the biting of the nails, the rocking back and forth as people on the last day of their visas try desperately to get an extension. Or they wait in line for days to pay a fine, and the fine grows while they wait.

Anything to not go insane! I tried praying, singing, reading, thinking about hope in general...but thoughts kept going to the clock and The List of people in front of me.

The fact that I made it into the room to see The Inspector is a miracle in itself. Looking at my two passports, she inquired in confusion, "What's THIS?" Glancing back and forth between the two variations of my name, it did not add up for her. This is due to the fact that I not only changed my last name, but also kept my maiden name instead of middle name.

Per her instructions a month or two earlier, I had gotten the Consulate to prepare a letter to accompany my other documents. The Inspector looked at the letter and said "Where is the legalization of this document?" What was I supposed to do to legalize it? It was from the U.S. Consulate. read more/-

"You'll have to go to Moscow," she said. Not again!

I had a bit of a panic attack thinking about how she gave me another week, but the legalization of documents in Moscow takes a week, and if you add in travel time, I wouldn't quite make it.

Then when Andrei tried calling the dept. in Moscow so we wouldn't make a trip there for nothing, they said they couldn't do anything for us.

That was where we left off on Friday, and then it was the weekend.

On Monday we'll try to attack the problem from all angles, until we find a door that opens. There has to be an answer somewhere.

Maybe she made a mistake? I remember when I couldn't get the central office to accept my FBI background check. That needed to be legalized, too. The Russian government would not accept it, and the U.S. government would not legalize it. I had to start from scratch. But this is a passport. I can't redo my identity.

I don't even have a visa right now. Just a brand-new passport with empty pages. And an older, stamped-up passport with holes through it to signify its invalidity.

The hardest part isn't not knowing the outcome, because there is no outcome that could separate me from the love of God. The hardest part is to pick up my feet and walk forward in faith.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Fun changes

Introducing...

The Love Nest! :)

This is where we're going to live after the wedding...actually, I'm moving in first, sometime next week. These are the "before" photos-we haven't made any changes or cleaned anything up since getting the keys.

The wallpaper is new. Through that little door is a closed-in porch that we can use for storage. The furniture is "older," but has character. ;)


The living space

more photos/-



The rest of the room, around the corner










The kitchen-needs some rearranging :)


Saturday, May 14, 2011

Part 2 of The Bird plus The Passport

(Read the previous post first.)

On Wednesday night I was finishing up blogging and e-mailing when my roommate knocked on my door at about 1am..."he's still here."

Apparently we hadn't checked very thoroughly for Mr.Pigeon, and he had been there all along, all through Bible study, without so much as a peep. Now that the lights were out and all was silent, he had started flapping around again behind the wall of shelves in Yulia's room, and she didn't particularly want to sleep in the same room. So she got in the spare bed in my room and we left Mr. Pigeon alone for the night.

On Thursday morning, he was still there, sometimes sitting still and sometimes pacing a little bit back and forth. No signs of trying to get out.

Andrei came to our rescue on his lunch break. He moved the heavy shelves out of the way enough to get access to Mr. Pigeon. But he ended up having to grab Mr. Pigeon with a cloth and manually carry him out onto the balcony, because that bird wasn't budging. Our feathered visitor finally flapped his wings and set off....to a neighbor's window sill. For some reason he didn't seem eager to enter the world. But eventually he did fly away. Mission complete!

I finally got word on Friday that my passport was ready, so I'll have to go in next week to get it and then do the next few steps. I "wasted" some time this week waiting for it, but I did get some other things done, like beginning to box up some belongings for my impending move.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

An intruder

I wanted to pick up my new passport today, but the Consulate hasn't informed me yet of its readiness. I had cleared my schedule anyway, so I was home, throwing everything on the floor doing some spring cleaning.

Suddenly I heard a creeeeak. I freaked myself out with thoughts of the boogey-man visiting, but I attributed the noises to the windows being open and causing things to flutter around in the breeze.

I headed to the front door to put my shoes on and do some grocery shopping, and came face-to-face with a pigeon. It was just bobbing along down the hallway, blinking its eyes. Ummmm....that thing was NOT supposed to be inside!

I guess I thought it would just go "toward the light," or in this case, the open balcony door. No screens here, just some gauzy material to filter out insects and other creatures. I opened the door wider and pulled the curtains aside. A pretty wide target.

Pigeons, it turns out, cannot be shooed. Ever noticed how they just flutter about 2 feet away and then stop? Whether from complacency, indecisiveness, or fear, I couldn't be sure...but this guy was going nowhere. He checked out his reflection in the mirror for awhile, then flopped awkwardly behind a piece of furniture as I approached and then just as awkwardly scrambled around back there. After I unsuccessfully shooed him from corner-to-corner (he got nowhere near the intended exit), he stationed himself near the door to the hallway, as if trapping ME in the room instead. And there was now a trail of blood from his feet (claws? talons?), which he had evidently injured. Pigeon-1. Liz-0. continue reading/-

I slid a piece of cardboard his way, hoping to at least get him to move, and he fluttered up on top of the wardrobe. From there I was able to get him far enough from the door to make my escape and shut him in the room. Fly away, Mr. Pigeon, fly away!

My roommate dropped by on her lunch break to play the hero. I might add that this all took place in HER room. I was thankful this time that she had the room with the balcony.

She poked her head into the battle room. "I don't see him." And then a quick peek on top of the wardrobe. He was still sitting there, just blinking! At least when we have bats or squirrels or whatever at home, they seem to sense where the exit is. Not this guy. He wasn't very intimidating, but he had outstayed his welcome. Yulia tried to scare him out of his corner and he fell behind the furniture and didn't make an effort to leave. She went back to work and I shut Mr. Pigeon in her room again and went to get ready for Bible study.

3-4 hours later, the guests were arriving. I made them peek into Yulia's room to see if Mr. Pigeon was gone. No sign of him! I guess he just needed to be left alone in order to make his move. Meanwhile, we may be subject to such visitors once more, as the open balcony (despite risks) provides us with much-needed ventilation.



Looking in the mirror...



Wednesday, May 4, 2011

To whom?

To WHOM? (meaning, 'who have you come to visit?') This is often barked at me when I enter Russian establishments. I mean, the kind of establishments that have guards. To be even more precise, certain apartment buildings, and orphanages, and even the Consulate.

I have been grappling with why this is such a strange question for me, as an American.  Do we even demand to know people's business as they arrive? Or is it always something super-polite, as in, "How may I help you?" What question would they ask in other countries around the world?

It used to irk me at the orphanage, and actually it still does, because I'm always ready to say who I am, but then they ask whom I'm looking for. I know I should learn the right answer, but I usually end up saying something like "everyone" or "the children" since I go around to different groups. Really, I'm supposed to say "Group 2," or the counselor's name there. They want to know the name of the person expecting you, and then either they have you wait, or usher you right in.

At the Consulate it's even stranger. Andrei was surprised that they didn't let me in right away and welcome me with open arms like in the movies. I was eventually admitted into the building, and at the inner checkpoint, the officer asked, "KOMY?" Well, I was stumped. Whom on earth would I be visiting at the U.S. Consulate? I echoed the question with a befuddled look and he looked at my passport "Ahhhh, a citizen," and switched into English. No more questions.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

To America and back in one hour

Don't know if it was risky to go to the U.S. Consulate today or not. In Moscow, maybe. But they don't seem to be likely targets for "activity."

Language confusion...
I successfully applied for my new passport today (after filling out the form a few times). When I pick it up next week, I will have to get it translated in a hurry and dash over to the local authorities to get my residency stamp transferred. Foreigners must be registered here within 3 days, and my old registration will be canceled along with my old passport.

The scene at the Consulate hasn't changed much over the past few years. What has changed is the new "appointment" system. It seems like a joke because there is NEVER a line at Citizen Services. Well, maybe I've had to wait a few minutes while they dealt with someone else or did something paperworky in the back. But in general, it's a ghost town.

I suppose they want to 1) know exactly who is going to be coming to the Consulate on a given day and 2) reserve personnel for emergency cases (stranded tourists) and non-citizen issues. But that's just my guess. continue/-

I arrived about 15 minutes early and wasn't even allowed in the building; I had to go wait across the street for another 10 minutes. It seemed a little harsh, especially considering the weather was in the 30's! But my future hubby is the bigger hero as he waited outside for me the whole time. There was also a group of hopeful visa applicants, evidently some Russian youth wanting to spend their summer in the U.S. Andrei gets to be in that category soon. :)

While we were still waiting outside, a group of bespectacled American businessmen in wrinkled khakis and blue blazers approached the Consulate and guffawed about something, to the non-amusement of the Russians.

Security was standard; I had given my Kindle to Andrei and removed change from my pockets, so I got a comment as to "many things for hair" in my purse, but that was it.

While I was waiting to be served, another American came in and said hello and we immediately started gabbing about where we were from, etc. I was amused thinking about how I would never say hello to a strange Russian, although we might compare notes about paperwork.

I have to admit to being a little nervous that the people waiting on me at the Consulate were Russian, only because I was afraid there might be a misunderstanding. The first girl was very young and her English was so-so (we could have spoken Russian, but it's the U.S. Consulate after all). However, she was quite efficient at helping me with the computerized form, and ran anything in question by her superiors right away.

The woman higher in command is quite knowledgeable; I think she's worked there for several years. So I'm pretty confident that my documents are in good hands. And even more confident that God is watching out for me!

An age-old or modern problem?

"Well, you dress like a little girl, for one thing."

"I am a little girl, so why shouldn't I?"

-Louisa May Alcott, An Old-Fashioned Girl, page 10


I read this book for the first time recently, and quite enjoyed getting to know the main character, "old-fashioned" Polly. I've noticed some social commentary lately on how young girls dress, and here in Russia their wardrobe choice is an issue as well.

It's not so much that Russian girls dress more or less scantily than in other countries, but there is a lot of premature sophistication, in my opinion. I'm almost 30, and there are eight-yr-olds more sophisticated than I am. The heels, the pea-coats, the perfectly coiffed hair...Is it a problem or not to dress older than one's age? That's debatable.

What I liked about the girl in this book was that she herself was conscious of how she differed from her vain peers, yet she stood firm. It is one thing for parents to set rules about modesty, but do young girls understand the reasons, or are they simply being obedient? They hear "you're too young" all the time, but how often do they say "I'm too young to wear that" or "that movie is inappropriate for me to watch"? They must be taught discernment.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

A happy accident

The wedding is three months away and Andrei and I have virtually no photos together, aside from a few candids. I used to scoff at the idea of "engagement" photo shoots, but now I understand why it is a good season of life to immortalize.

We haven't been able to schedule a photo shoot for various reasons, but we were walking in the park on Sunday when we suddenly ran into a friend from church, camera in tow. Before we could even react, he snapped our photo. And there you have it.




Friday, April 29, 2011

Orphanage update #1

Everything is going pretty well with visiting the orphanage regularly. I do a lot of tutoring English. I also witness a lot of the kids' "growing pains," since I sit at a table right in the middle of their group. Oh, the drama.

Some time ago I mentioned a new girl, Dasha. As new kids have been coming in, I've been noticing the power struggles. A new kid either makes a name for himself among the other kids by doing something bad early on (skipping class together, obtaining cigarettes, etc.), or he keeps to himself and is ostracized.

Unfortunately, Dasha hasn't made a friend in the group. She has not even acquired a "partner in-crime," which is how so many of the friendships start out. The counselors praise her studiousness, though they do not seem to be doing anything to help her develop her social skills. I saw her giggling a little when the boys teased, and I thought perhaps she was going to break into normal adolescence. But the teasing took on more of a taunting nature.

Her studiousness, frank manner, and nervous tics have become fodder for rejection by the rest of the group. I hoped so much for her that she either didn't care about the foolish words from others, or cared enough to try to break out of her shell and make a few friendly gestures.

"I am going to appeal to the director to leave this group," she announced recently, as the other children and counselors snickered. I wished I could just lend her a little patience to get through the next few years. While "behind" in some ways, she is simultaneously more mature than the other kids, since she doesn't play their little games.

I was reminded of the film "Chuchelo," a very compelling Russian film in which a young girl is ostracized by the rest of her class. It's similar to "Lord of the Flies" in that it depicts some frightening human tendencies that surface in group situations. I very much hope that Dasha will cling to the few positives in her life and not continue to be a victim of society or of her own troubled past.


Saturday, April 23, 2011

Easter in Russia

It's a good thing the Easter cakes were officially blessed by the priest yesterday! That means we can eat them, right?

Apparently the priest personally showed up personally at the grocery store to perform the honors. Typically, people take their Easter eggs and cake and I don't know what else to church with them to get the food "blessed" before the Easter feast.





Saturday, April 16, 2011

Sweet Harmony

I was looking for some hymns online and came across this family of singers. I was so inspired by their crisp harmony, so worshipful. I almost wanted to dance!

Listen to "How Beautiful":

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

A way of life

I used to get a multi-entry visa to Russia once a year, and that was it, besides the occasional trip out of the country for registration purposes.

Then things got more complicated, and I thought...now if I just had a residency permit, I wouldn't have to "worry" about visas again.

As I got closer to getting my residency permit, I looked forward to the days when I would be free from bureaucracy. And there is a sense of freedom, in a way. But as my documents were finalized, I noticed the line for the people who were there for their annual inspection, from which I will not be exempt. Now I had a different thought: this is my life.

Of course it isn't my life in the sense that it's my purpose. But it is something that will remain constant. I can see that now as I imagine how even the next year will go, with lots of bureaucratic processes to endure. But there is no other way to live.

God is not going to take away this burden, although He may give me favor with the officials, or see that a law or two will change. I think I just need to accept the way things are and get used to depending on Him.


Wednesday, March 30, 2011

A matter of life and death

He is not the God of the dead but of the living. -Matthew 22:32

I'm not sure why, but this verse has come up again and again in the past several months, starting in the fall at a church retreat.

One of the church's leaders had just lost his mother that day, and the pastor implored us to meditate on this verse. Among Russian Orthodox believers there is a practice of praying for the Lord's mercy on the spirit of the dead, as it passes through the journey to its final destination. But the Lord wants to meet with us in this life. It is here where we make our decision, and if we choose life, He will still be our God...not the Lord over our dead bodies, but the Lord of our new, eternal flesh.

Then I was talking to a friend who was favoring a "catch-all" sort of spiritual mindset. She was okay with most religions, and astrology and divination were just fine, too. As I explained that my views were a little narrower, she asked "Do you believe in ghosts?" I said that I believed in evil spirits, as the Bible does recall incidents of demon possession. But what about the "friendly" kind? You know, the spirit of the deceased relative, "watching over" someone, or trying to "say" something. I thought for a moment, and the verse popped into my mind again. Anything to do with the "undead" is NOT of the Lord. He is the Lord of the living. We may commune with the Lord in this life, but those who are dead, are dead, awaiting resurrection. If resurrected, we will live in a new heaven and a new earth. There is no wandering about between the worlds. read more/-

Guess what phrase came up in my Greek homework? That very verse. A fairly simple passage to translate, since the only verb is "to be." It's part of the essence of who God is. How could a dead person choose whom to serve? When we speculate about what really goes on in the afterlife, all we can do is compare it with the life we know. But there, everything will be different. We will change. Outside of our faith, all else becomes irrelevant.

Recently, I was reading some headlines about Japan. A CNN article mentioned the impossibility of performing funerals for most of the dead, as mass burials are presently a necessity. My heart went out to the survivors who were not able to confirm if family members were alive or dead. At the same time, I thought, does it really MATTER in what form they were buried? And again I thought of the Lord and how He takes care of the living. The deceased, if believers, have already met with the Lord. They receive eternal life. But there is still hope for the ones left behind.

Soon, we will observe the ultimate victory of life over death, the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Another (more serious) book on marriage

When I mentioned "heavy" books on marriage that I was reading, this was one of them. But I think the heaviness that I felt reading John Piper's "This Momentary Marriage" is more about the weight of His glory than about something sad. It's all quite positive, because it is God's plan, and all that He created is good. But it is also a great responsibility.

(You can download "This Momentary Marriage" for free from John Piper's website.*)

Something old, something new

Many of the marriage-related topics addressed in this book (forgiveness, gender roles, etc.) can be found in the sermons posted on desiringgod.org. I had listened to several of them recently, so I recognized the material.

Yes, he offers commentary on the "same old" passages, such as Ephesians 5. But he expands on them in such a way that I received many new nuggets of insight that I hope to apply in my own life.

Grounds for marriage

Early on in the book, Piper quotes Colossians 3:12 ("Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved...") and then expands on a description of believers as 1) chosen, 2) holy, and 3) beloved. His conclusion is this: read more/-
"This is the beginning of how husbands and wives forbear and forgive. They are blown away by being chosen, set apart, and loved by God. Husbands, devote yourselves to seeing and savoring this. Wives, do the same. Get your life from this. Get your joy from this. Get your hope from this-that you are chosen, set apart, and loved by God. Plead with the Lord that this would be the heartbeat of your life and your marriage."
I made a note of this as something to pray about continuously.

Being in love vs. keeping a covenant

We've all heard it: "love" and "being in love" are not the same thing. People warn you that the "in love" goes away, so you'd better work on the "love" part. I like Piper's no-nonsense approach:

"If a spouse falls in love with another person, one profoundly legitimate response from the grieved spouse and from the church is, 'So what! Your being 'in love' with someone else is not decisive. Keeping your covenant is decisive.'"

Something recoils in me at the thought of ever having to deal with this problem. But I am so glad that there are people fighting for these truths, and that I know which side I'm on.

Marriage roles

Piper's comments on Ephesians 5 are that:
-the husband is like Christ, but he is NOT Christ
-"the analogy only works if the woman submits to Christ absolutely, not to the husband absolutely. Then she will be in a position to submit to the husband without committing treason or idolatry."

But I also felt it was appropriate that he challenges the ambiguity of modern marriage roles with this comment:
-"... the problem is that egalitarians seem to stop with mutual submission, as if that were all one needed to say about roles in marriage, or as if that is all that the text has to say. And when they stop there, most people today are left with great ambiguity and great confusion about the proper roles of husband and wife...You don't need to deny mutual submission to affirm the importance of the unique role of the husband as head and the unique calling of the wife to submit to that headship. The simplest way to see this is to remember that Jesus himself bound himself with a towel and got down on the floor and washed his disciples' feet (the bridegroom serving the bride), but not for one minute did any of the apostles in that room doubt who the leader was in that moment." (emphasis mine)
Piper then goes on to illustrate headship for two chapters.

"If there is a sound downstairs during the night and it might be a burglar, you don't say to her, 'This is an egalitarian marriage, so it's your turn to go check it out. I went last time.'...Big or little, strong or weak, night or day, you go up against the enemy first."

The next section deals with wives' submission. Piper expands on Proverbs 31:25: "Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come."
"She looks away from the troubles and miseries and obstacles of life that seem to make the future bleak, and she focuses her attention on the sovereign power and love of God who rules in heaven and does on earth whatever he pleases (Ps. 115:3). She knows her Bible, and she knows her theology of the sovereignty of God, and she knows his promise that he will be with her and will help her and strengthen her no matter what."

Not married

Singlehood can be a blessing....haven't we all heard that before? (1 Corinthians 7)  I started flipping through the section a little faster, but I found that he offers some beautiful insight, like this comment:

"Someone might ask, wouldn't it be better to have both-the blessings of marriage and the blessings of heaven?...the blessings of being with Christ in heaven are so far superior to the blessings of being married and raising children that asking this question will be like asking, wouldn't it be better to have the ocean and also the thimbleful?" (emphasis mine)

 On hospitality

"If you are afraid of hospitality-that you don't have much personal strength or personal wealth-good. Then you won't intimidate anybody. You will depend all the more on God's grace. You will look all the more to the work of Christ and not your own work. And what a blessing people will get in your simple home or your little apartment."

Isn't this so true? I have been the recipient of this hospitality so many times, especially in Russia, where living conditions are modest. How wonderful to enjoy a simple meal in good company, or even just a cup of tea! When you are served the last portion of homemade soup, how warming it is to the soul! My roommate likes to say that food prepared with love is always tasty. I think that's mostly true. She always eats my cooking at least, even if she does douse it with ketchup once in a while. :)


Having children

This chapter begins with a treatise on sexual relations in marriage. Lots of good thoughts, but I'm simultaneously reading Piper's "Sex and the Supremacy of Christ," so perhaps I will cover that topic in another review.

His main thoughts on Christian child-rearing relate to marriage partners as a model of God's love for the future generation. "As husband and wife, they are a drama of the covenant-keeping love between Christ and the church. That is where God wants children to be. His design is that children grow up watching Christ love the church and watching the church delight in following Christ."

As he digs deeper, Piper focuses mainly on appealing to fathers as heads of households, with discussion on Eph. 6:4: "Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger."

When things don't work out

Unfortunately, a marriage book isn't "complete" without mentioning divorce. But I agree with Piper's stance on this issue as well. He suggests a combination of compassion for those suffering with a deep hatred for divorce itself and the sin that causes it. His simple argument against divorce relates directly to Christ's covenant with His bride.
"And if the blood-brought church, under the new covenant, ever ceases to be the bride of Christ, then a wife may legitimately divorce her husband. But as long as Christ keeps his covenant with the church, and as long as the church, by the omnipotent grace of God, remains the chosen people of Christ, then the very meaning of marriage will include: What God has joined, only God can separate."
Piper applies this to remarriage as well. Divorcing and remarrying is an act of adultery (Mark 10:10-12), because Christ would never abandon His bride in this way. However, this does not mean that those who have remarried should abandon their current spouses, as they are already in a covenant with them.


Thinking "out loud"

I finally realized what it is that's particular about Piper's teaching/writing style, and that is that he muses his way through an issue. He records all of his reactions as they enter his mind. He asks questions and leads the reader in exploring them; then his observations flow along, with lots of clauses linked by "and."

In the section on child-rearing that I mentioned, Piper muses about Paul's reasons for making a particular exhortation. 
"Of all the things Paul could have encouraged fathers not to do, he chooses this one. Amazing. Why this one? Why not, don't discourage them? Or pamper them? Or tempt them to covet or lie or steal? Why not, don't abuse them? Or neglect them? Or set a bad example for them? Or manipulate them? Of all the things he could have warned fathers against, why this: 'Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger?'...He doesn't tell us why. So let me guess from what I know of Scripture and life. I'll suggest two reasons. First..."

That's a pretty roundabout way of posing a question! It's effective in a way because it leads the reader in asking questions. But it's a little too informal, in my opinion. Lots of personal pronouns.

Conclusions

I think this book is a great, comprehensive look at God's design for marriage. John Piper's arguments are solid and I see no red flags as to false teaching. "Momentary Marriage" is not a collection of practical helps; it is a biblical explanation for building a solid marriage that will glorify God. Single people and the church as a whole will also appreciate reflecting on how Christ gave himself up for His bride and how this is reflected in human relationships.

Read more book reviews at YLCF's March of Books this month! 


*A word about the format: The PDF file is beautifully formatted, with a nice typeface and quotes offset in italics, etc. When I converted it to my Kindle, that was all lost. The footnotes show up in the middle of the text, as well as the page headings. There is no italicizing or indentation to indicate where there are quotations. There are quotes by Dietrich Bonhoeffer that blend in with the text and are practically lost. Just a little warning.